Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Favorite Organization Tip

Okay, so I'm very tardy with this submission for the #MTBoS Sunday Funday Blogging Challenge.  Life is busy this time of year; I'll chalk my tardiness up to that.  But I do want to share a tip that I implemented last year that has really helped me stay on top of organization.

In the front of my classroom, underneath a skinny table, sit 5 crates with hanging file folders in them.  I have one crate for each of my five classes.  Each student has one hanging file folder.  I tell students that the folder is a one-way mailbox.  Anything that I need to give to them, I will put in their folder.  It is the students' job to "check their mailbox" and take out anything that is in there.  I make it very clear to students that the folders are not an extension of their locker and should be empty a majority of the time.

How have the crates helped my organization and time management?

Handing back papers can now be done outside of class time. 
I no longer spend precious class time handing back papers.  Whenever I finish grading tests, quizzes, etc., I simply take the papers and drop them into each student's folder.  When students come to class, I will pull that period's crate off the floor, set it on the table, and when students enter the room between periods they grab their papers.  Yes, the occasion student walks into class right as the bell rings, but s/he can quickly check their folder and get to where they need to be without too much time being wasted.

Absent student work.
I used to be terrible at keeping track of materials for absent students.  Now, if a students is absent for class, I take a copy of any materials handed out in class and put them in their folder.  Students quickly learn the expectation of checking their folders when they return from an absence.  Directions for this process can be written in substitute teachers plans as well.

The crates sit on the floor at the front of my room.

Each period, I pull the appropriate crate up and place it on the desk.
Students know their folder should always be cleaned out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Desmos Fellowship 2017 Reflection

I’m writing this blog post on my flight home from San Francisco.  I figure I’d better transition my thoughts into words before I return home to the responsibilities of being a father of four. 
The Desmos Fellows weekend was awesome.  It was everything I had imagined plus 120% more.  Here are some highlights, in no particular order…

Star Shock – Team Desmos
When I first arrived at the Desmos Headquarters on Friday afternoon, who other than Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) was there greeting us at the door.  I’ve met Dan before on two separate occasions, but this one felt a bit different.  Inside the HQ, I cross paths with Shelley Carranza (@stcarranza).  I introduce myself to Michael Fenton (@mjfenton).  Not long after, Eli Luberoff (@eluberoff) enters the room. 

As introductions begin, I realize that I’m sitting in the chair that Desmos programmer Denis Lantsman (@dlants) typically sits in.  Jenny Wales (@jenny_wales), Cori McElwain (@CoriMcElwain), and Zack Ellis (@overZellis) are sitting nearby.  Many of the people who are responsible for creating activities I use in my classroom are all here.

As the weekend continued, I was able to interact a lot with the team from Desmos.  During lunch on Saturday, Michael and I had a conversation about our children.  I picked Dan’s brain about his thoughts on transitioning some 3-ACT tasks into Activity Builder.  I asked Eli if he is planning on billing SDCTM for his travel to South Dakota this past February.  I listened to Jenny talk about how neat New Orleans is.  All of these conversations helped the shock wear off a bit.

Michael Fenton, Jarrod, and I

Star Shock – The Fellowship
Prior to arriving, there was a lot of activity on Twitter and on the Desmos Slack from members of the Fellowship.  Some of the Fellows I had been following on Twitter for years.  I have read their blogs and borrowed their ideas and favorite lessons.  I felt like I knew a little bit about some of the Fellows but in a very impersonal way.

The personalization of those connections began even before I set foot in California.  In route to San Francisco, I had a stop in Denver.  While there, I met Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek) and Angela Reilly Harden (@angelarh).  In the weeks leading up to the Fellows weekend, I had worked with Jon on an Activity Builder centered on algebra and “Two Truths and a Lie”.  Jon and Angela joined Jarrod (my Brookings colleague and fellow Fellow) and I and the four of us exchanged stories as we found our way to our hotel.

As I drifted around the room at Desmos HQ, I found myself shaking hands with a number of familiar names from Twitter and MTBoS.  I recognized some names from activities found in Desmos.  I started to wonder how I was selected to be a part of such a talented group of people.

Jon Orr and I

Professional Development
A big highlight of mine was being able to listen to the PD sessions put on by the Desmos team. 

Saturday morning, Michael gave a presentation about the Principles for Activity Building.  He had us work through Point Collector as a student and then analyze which design principles were being used during the activity.  It was great to do a deep dive into the 13 design principles.

Jenny and Shelley presented on the Desmos design process.  I learned a really cool strategy for creating activities that uses 8-squares and sticky notes.

Eli spoke to the group about the history and evolution of Desmos.  It was awesome to see some of the artifacts Eli was able to access and inspiring to hear about the future of Desmos.

Scott Miller (@smiller229) and Jenn Vadnais (@rilesblue) presented a session on strong presentation moves when speaking about Desmos.  I really enjoyed learning ways that I can improve my skill level as a presenter.

Dan led a two hour session focused on working with teachers and how to become a Desmos Certified presenter.  I really enjoyed learning about the types of things the team at Desmos wants us to be focusing on while giving presentations.  One big takeaway from Dan’s session was that technology allows teachers and students to co-construct the experience.  I hope to become a Desmos Certified presenter soon.

Michael's Presentation

Eli speaking about the history of Desmos

New Tools
Dan also led a session that introduced the Fellows to a new tool that we have access to inside of Activity Builder called Computation Layer (CL).  CL grants access into more of the guts of Activity Builder and allows creators to do a number of things that previously couldn’t have been done.  With my limited computer programming experience, I understand about 3.14% of what I have access to in CL.  During our work sessions, I learned a lot about CL thanks largely to Paul Jorgens (@pejorgens) and Angela.  I plan to continue to learn more about programming and using CL.

I’m very excited to see what some of the brightest Fellows can create for us to use these next few months.

Dan showing us CL.

Angela, Paul, and I

The City
This was my first time ever in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Jarrod and I enjoyed exploring the city.  Items we checked off our bucket list include seeing Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, riding a Cable Car, and eating at House of Prime Rib.  The weather was beautiful and the food was excellent.
Golden Gate @ Sunset
Hangin' on the Cable Car
Totally Impressed!

I’m excited to be part of this awesome group of people.  They re-kindled my fire to improve my practice, be a leader, and help change how student experience mathematics.

Desmos HQ

I love the fact that there is every issue of Mathematics Teacher in house.

Desmos Fellowship 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

Desmos Fellowship Preview

Quick tangent: We are over halfway through June.  Where has the summer gone?

The second cohort of Desmos Fellows was recently announced.  I'm honored and excited to be a part of it.  When the first cohort was selected, I had to decline an invitation to join due to the birth of my child.  Fortunately, I was grandfathered into the second cohort and here we are!

I'm looking forward to learning from this Fellowship and being a part of something that is making major changes in the field of mathematics education.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Best of Luck, Mr. Sage!

This past semester, I had the opportunity to have Brendan Sage (@brendan_sage) be my student teacher.  As I reflect on our time together, it's safe to say that we both learned a lot from each other.  One thing I learned from Brendan is that it's not difficult to make the diagrams and pictures we use in class look a lot more professional.  He shared with me a number of useful websites and resources that I will continue to use to find new, challenging material.  Lastly, he found a number of silly, corny math jokes to show students and they absolutely loved them.  

Mr. Sage will take over his own classroom in the fall.  I'm confident that he will do great and his students will be lucky to have him as their teacher.

Twin Day 2017
Is there any resemblance to this movie poster?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PAEMST Application

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that talked about GRIT.  In the post, I mentioned that my PAEMST application deadline was rapidly approaching and I had a lot of work to do.  I'm happy to say that I completed the application with a few hours to spare.  It pains me to realize how much of a deadline person I am.  I most always get done what needs to get done; however, I have an A+ in Procrastination 101.

A few brief thoughts that are stewing in my brain due to the application...
First of all, completing that application is a challenge.  It really made me think about things that I am doing in my classroom, and why I do those things.  It also makes me think about how I can improve moving forward.

This year, our district implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and assigned each staff member to a PLC group.  We were provided 4 driving questions to lead our PLC focus and discussion.
1.  What do we want our students to learn?
2.  How will we know that they are learning?
3.  How will we respond when they don’t learn?
4.  How will we respond when they already know it?

I really like these questions.  I want to be able to answer these questions without hesitation and I want to be proud of my answers.  Right now, I can't say that I'm proud of my answers for each of these questions.  My PAEMST application helped me realize this.

My initial response to question 3 is the one I'm least proud of.  "How will we respond when they don't learn?"  What a great question.

In my classes right now, I have two or three students who are not learning what I expect them to.  I know this because they are currently in danger of failing the semester.   Each of the students' situations is unique and I don't want to dive into those details.  I will say that my answer to question 3 is not very strong right now.  My general response is "The students need to come in and get extra help."  The problem is that the students are not doing so, and I've done nothing beyond that.

I'm excited to see where the PLC discussion groups will lead us.

I may not receive the PAEMST award with the application I recently submitted.  Time will tell.  But one thing is certain -- I've done a lot of reflecting due to completing it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 TIE Conference

The 2017 TIE Conference (held in Rapid City, SD) is right around the corner.  If you happen to attend, here's a little insight into a couple of sessions that I'll be co-presenting on.

Sunday, April 23

Sharon Rendon (@srendon2), Jarrod Huntimer (@BHSGeometry), and I will be hosting an in-depth session focused on Desmos.  During the four-hour session, participants will get a deep look at as well as the Activity Builder features.

Monday, April 24

Jarrod and I will also be hosting a breakout session on Desmos.  We plan to give participants a brief overview of the site and the Activity Builder features.  We do plan to customize the presentation based on the comfort level and previous Desmos experience of the participants present that day.

Here's to a great conference and WIFI that works for our participants!
We'd love to see you in Rapid City!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


This past Wednesday, our high school launched what we're calling "Advisory Period".  In brief, advisories will act a little like a homeroom for our high school students.  Once a week, students will meet with their advisory group for 30  minutes and engage in some sort of task -- team building, character building, class meetings, etc.  Advisory teachers will also monitor student grades and provide an extra layer of support for students who might be struggling.

Advisory groups will be grouped with students in the same grade.  I have been assigned students from the incoming freshmen class.  Therefore, this spring I was assigned to help the counselors with the entire class of seniors.  The counselors had a list of newsworthy items they disseminated to the seniors.  They also showed the seniors a video of a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth titled GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

As I watched the video, I found myself inspired by Angela's explanation of "Grit".  She says, "Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.  Grit is having stamina.  Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality."  I started to reflect on my goals and dreams and arrived at the realization that I haven't been very gritty as of late.

In 2015, I was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).  I worked hard to complete the challenging application and later found out that I was a state finalist for the award.  Ultimately, I did not win the award.  I received feedback on my application from the state and national level reviewers.  Much of my application was strong, but not strong enough.

Due to being a state finalist, I was automatically eligible to re-apply in 2017. [2016 was a K-6 level year.]   Much of my previous application can be used again, but improving it is where I've lacked grittiness.  I haven't had the motivation or perseverance to dig in and improve it.  The application is due on May 1st and the clock is ticking.

Thank you, Angela, for the inspirational talk.  Not only am I going to complete the award application, you have also re-kindled my motivation to write blog posts and be more reflective in my practice.  Sometimes I need a reminder to work hard and think critically about my teaching style, pedagogy, and decisions.  Angela's talk served as a great reminder.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Explore MTBoS 2017 - Week 3

Last year, I found the time to blog for all four weeks of the MTBoS blogging initiative.  This year, I'm happy to be able to find the time to blog once.  [My wife and I welcomed our fourth child last November; between our new baby and our other three kids being more and more involved in activities, time is a premium in my world.]

The prompt for the week is to write about a single blogpost or compile a bunch of various posts.  I'm going to cheat a bit and simply highlight one blog that is my top 5.

The Desmos Blog ( is typically updated each week and contains a wealth of strong information.  Some of my favorite posts found within the blog are the "Friday Fave" variety.  The team at Desmos highlights their favorite activity created in activity builder.

Also, this blog is where you can find information about the newest Desmos features.

I try to read the new blog postings the day they are posted, but I'm currently a few weeks behind.  [See: new baby.]

One last piece of info I'd like to share.  My colleague and I are presenting a session on Desmos and the Activity Builder features at South Dakota's annual math and science conference in February.

Here's the thing... Desmos Founder Eli Luberoff is a featured speaker at the conference and is presenting a number of sessions focused on Desmos as well.  Luckily, his presentations are not at the same time as ours (we want to attend his presentations!).  But we are feeling a little like Wayne and Garth in the following clip.

Here's to Jarrod and I not bombing our presentation with Eli in the house!